Growing up in a biracial family with two immigrant parents, multiculturalism embodies my life and fuels my identity. While this is an identity I did not want as a child, being that I was so different from my peers, I slowly grew to fill the shoes that were laid out for me. When I started college, I joined Schreyer for Women not only for the friendships, but also for the opportunity to make a difference in my community. Little did I know this community would be greater than I could have imagined.
The idea of service begins with a purpose or simply asking yourself ‘why’. Service of any kind should inform, empower, and sustain its beneficiaries, a vision Schreyer for Women shares. Sustainability is key. Whether it’s through mutual knowledge sharing and learning, or fruitful actions whose impact will continuously grow, Schreyer for Women works hard to make these sustainable opportunities possible for our members and the communities we work with.
There are 62 million girls around the world that are not in school (Let Girls Learn, 2016). Oftentimes, girls are pulled out of school once a month for a week or more at a time, due to the lack of access to feminine hygiene products and bathroom facilities in schools. In a case that a girl were to become pregnant, she would have to leave her education behind. Sadly, girls are also pulled out of school because many families can barely afford to educate their sons, and girls are simply not a priority. Despite all of these barriers, educating girls is important. Educated women are more likely to find work, increase GDP, narrow the pay gap between men and women, improve child nutrition, and deliver children at a mature and safe age (UNESCO). In Fall 2018, Schreyer for Women sought to prioritize girls access to education, while staying true to our vision of sustainability. The new Penn State Days for Girls Club is a powerful example of this vision.
Days for Girls (DFG) is a global not-for-profit organization that increases access to menstrual care and education through the creation of environmentally sustainable and reusable pads. These reusable kits, sewn by DFG clubs, containing 2 shields, 8 absorbent pads, a bar of soap, a menstrual calendar, and two pairs of underwear, allows girls to pursue and continue their education free from the barriers presented by menstruation. On March 17th, 2019, Schreyer for Women hosted its first Days for Girls sewing event at The Makery in Downtown State College. When Eliza Mull, Macie Plotkin, Caroline Camp, and I found out we were going to be traveling to Tanzania and Kenya through the Schreyer Honors College in May 2019, we took the initiative of bringing Days for Girls wherever we could.
With our vision in mind, we connected with a local women’s organization in Tanzania called Modern Girl. This small organization of women, many of whom are former students of the SEGA Girls' School in Morogoro, Tanzania, are recognized by and familiar to locals. From online trainings to presentation practice, and finally a long bus ride to Mvomero, Tanzania, we worked closely with and learned from Modern Girl to put together a comprehensive presentation on feminine hygiene.
When we set foot off the bus in Mvomero, Tanzania, the girls’ waving hands, smiling faces, and cheery Swahili greetings spilled through the school’s windows. They were excited to see us, just as we were excited to see them. As we walked in, each classroom fell to silent eagerness as we set up. The chalk screeched on the board and the curiosity grew. For some of the girls, this was the first time they had ever seen a drawing of the female reproductive system. And for most, it was the first time they’d learned about topics like their bodies, safe sex, and self defense.
It’s a little awkward to talk about sex with strangers, but without Modern Girl, these intimate, but life-changing conversations wouldn’t have been as personable. From intimacy to periods and cramps, the way Clementina and Angel from Modern Girl bridged our language barrier and led these difficult conversations, is what brought girls to take diligent notes and pose insightful questions. A young teen sitting in the back of the room even handed her baby to her friends so that she too could take notes during our presentation. During our Q&A session, a 14 year old girl asked, “I was told that if a man is circumcised, he can’t get me pregnant. Can a circumcised man still get me pregnant?” The reality of this question struck me and it was in that moment that I understood how much the girls cared about what we had to say.
“Seeing something like this come to fruition was amazing; I got to experience firsthand how the power of one person can make a difference in the life of another,” Macie Plotkin ‘22 reflects. Following our informative presentation, I proceeded to demonstrate how to use the reusable pads. I slipped on a pair of over-sized underwear over my pants, and the girls couldn’t contain their emotions and burst into laughter, releasing any awkwardness around sex and periods that was left in the air. To their laughter, I posed like a model.
“Throughout the school year, I had fun with the Schreyer for Women community as we learned to sew reusable menstruation kits and raise money for Days for Girls, but it wasn’t until I traveled to Tanzania to advocate for this mission, that I truly appreciated the impact Days for Girls has on the global community” Eliza Mull '22. This initiative is eye-opening for girls who have never learned about menstruation. Through safe and comfortable conversations that inform girls about the changes their bodies are going through, and by providing them with a toolkit that can last up to five years or more, this is as sustainable as menstruation has ever been.
“You know that they will take what they learned and share it with the rest of the community and future generations, far extending the impact of this one day” Caroline Camp '22. From beginning to end, the new Days for Girls Club at Penn State will allow us to involve our community in these efforts. This year, we hope to grow our capacity to fundraise and sew menstruation kits to propel our vision of sustainable service. Schreyer for Women is proud to house this initiative and play our small part in empowering our sisters at home and around the world.